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Bad Astronomy Blog » Neil Tyson on exploring space
Astronomer Neil Tyson wrote a pretty good article for Parade magazine this week about why we explore space. He hits a lot of the right points, and he says something that I wind up hammering when I give public talks as well:

How many times have we heard the mantra: “Why are we spending billions of dollars up there in space when we have pressing problems down here on Earth?” Let’s re-ask the question in an illuminating way: “What is the total cost in taxes of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the space station and shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit and missions yet to fly?” Answer: less than 1% on the tax dollar—7/10ths of a penny, to be exact.


So, with 99 out of 100 cents going to fund the rest of our nation’s priorities, the space program is not now (nor has it ever really been) in anybody’s way.

The short version: space exploration costs us very little. Need I remind you that we are basically setting fire to $11,000,000 per hour in Iraq? When I talk on this topic, I make an analogy: when your disk drive is full, do you go through and take hours to delete thousands of small text files, or do you delete that one big 3 Gb video file you never watch? NASA is a text file on the hard drive of the government.

Spot on. And people never stop to think that the money is ALL spent right here on earth and almost all of it is spent in the United States. Jobs, factories, services…..

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Privacy: Proposed Legislation In Ohio Would Require Women To Get A Man’s Permission To Have An Abortion - Consumerist
New proposed legislation in Ohio would make it illegal for a woman to get an abortion without a man’s permission, according to the Record-Courier.

Not knowing who the father of the fetus is couldn’t be used as an excuse under the new law. Women would have to provide a list of potential fathers who would then be required to submit themselves to paternity testing until a father is found. It would also make it illegal for a man who isn’t the father to provide the permission.

What about rape or incest? A woman seeking an abortion would have to provide “reasonable cause” for the doctor to believe the rape of incest occurred, which, in our estimation, would probably mean police reports and charges filed.

My head just exploded.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Women have played major role in history — from the start, authors assert
Of greatest import in this book is the idea that women have always been major players – not simply baby-machines who tended to the children, rustled up roots, collected nuts and berries and relied on macho male hunters to bring home the bacon.

In fact, the authors’ spadework led them to a striking conclusion: that “female humans have been the chief engine in the unprecedented high level of human sociability; were the inventors of the most useful of tools – called the String Revolution; have shared equally in the provision of food for human societies; almost certainly drove the human invention of language; and were the ones who created agriculture.”

But of course.

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For Some Muslim Wives, Abuse Knows No Borders - washingtonpost.com
“I was perfectly happy living alone, but the family kept pushing me to marry. I wanted to show them I was a good Muslim girl,” said Shireen, now 37 and divorced. When her husband became abusive, she said, relatives told her to be a better wife. When she took him to court, she said, “everyone abandoned me. I was the one who had done something wrong.”

A lot of the time nowadays I can’t believe we’re actually living in the 21st Century. Not only do we not have flying cars and plentiful, clean energy - but we also have to continue acting like primitive, tribal screw-heads living and dying by books written over a thousand years ago. Sigh.

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Poland doesn’t need more gays: leader :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: World
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s conservative prime minister rejected European Union criticism Thursday of a proposal to fire teachers for ”homosexual propaganda,” saying it was not in the interest of society to have more gay people.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said homosexuals did not face discrimination in his country, responding to an EU parliament vote to send a mission to Poland to investigate recent anti-gay comments by senior officials.

”Nobody is limiting gay rights in Poland,” Kaczynski told reporters hours after the vote.

”However, if we’re talking about not having homosexual propaganda in Polish schools, I fully agree with those who feel this way,” he said. ”Such propaganda should not be in schools; it definitely doesn’t serve youth well.”

Amazing. ~We’re part of the EU and we’ll obey EU laws but we’re not gonna obey EU law.~ Haha.

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Psychology Today: The Ideological Animal

“All people are born alike-except Republicans and Democrats,” quipped Groucho Marx, and in fact it turns out that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are evident in early childhood. In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children’s temperaments. They weren’t even thinking about political orientation.

Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects’ childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

This kind of thing really does make it difficult to have hope sometimes.

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The prospect of all-female conception - Independent Online Edition > Science & Technology
Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman’s bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue.

The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

But the results also raise the prospect of being able to take bone-marrow tissue from women and coaxing the stem cells within the female tissue to develop into sperm cells, said Professor Karim Nayernia of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Interesting science. One more piece in the puzzle.

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Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes - New York Times
When it comes to the matter of desire, evolution leaves little to chance. Human sexual behavior is not a free-form performance, biologists are finding, but is guided at every turn by genetic programs.
Desire between the sexes is not a matter of choice. Straight men, it seems, have neural circuits that prompt them to seek out women; gay men have those prompting them to seek other men. Women’s brains may be organized to select men who seem likely to provide for them and their children. The deal is sealed with other neural programs that induce a burst of romantic love, followed by long-term attachment.

So much fuss, so intricate a dance, all to achieve success on the simple scale that is all evolution cares about, that of raisingthe greatest number of children to adulthood. Desire may seem the core of human sexual behavior, but it is just the central act in a long drama whose script is written quite substantially in the genes.

Interesting stuff.

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In England, security cameras that scold | News.blog | CNET News.com

British authorities are installing talking security cameras in 20 locations throughout the country to try to crack down on offenders, the BBC is reporting.
The cameras, already in use in Middlesbrough, England, warn miscreants via a loudspeaker about minor offenses such as littering. Workers in control centers there monitor 12 cameras and can talk directly to citizens when they spot violations. Officials say they have prevented fights and cut litter levels.

Authorities in the U.K.–the country that gave the world Nineteen Eighty-Four author George Orwell and his critique of surveillance societies–also use self-activated “speed cameras” to monitor driving habits.

Privacy advocates were troubled by the idea of a Big Brother-ish voice hectoring passers-by.

“Apart from being absurd, I think it’s rather sad that we should have faceless cameras barking at us on orders from who? Who sets these cameras up?” said opponent Steve Hills.

Seem that the UK is even further along, in some ways, on the slide to fascism than we are.

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For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too - New York Times

Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

Interesting article.

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New Drive Afoot to Pass Equal Rights Amendment - washingtonpost.com
Federal and state lawmakers have launched a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reviving a feminist goal that faltered a quarter-century ago when the measure did not gain the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures.

Although more states are considering ratifying the ERA now than at any other time in the past 25 years, activists still face serious hurdles. Every statewide officeholder in Arkansas endorsed the amendment this year, but the bill stalled in committee last week after Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly came to Little Rock to testify against the measure.

In the 1970s, Schlafly and others argued that the ERA would lead to women being drafted by the military and to public unisex bathrooms. Today, she warns lawmakers that its passage would compel courts to approve same-sex marriages and deny Social Security benefits for housewives and widows.

WTF? What in the hell is wrong with that woman? That’s part of what equality is you dumbass. And yeah - the bathroom and benefits claims are ridiculous.
Oh yeah - shame on you Arkansas - that is absolutely pathetic.

groovychk: (science)

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A network of artificial nerves is growing in a Swiss supercomputer — meant to simulate a natural brain, cell-for-cell. The researchers at work on “Blue Brain” promise new insights into the sources of human consciousness.

But — has there been mental activity?

The newborn “Blue Brain” surprised the designers with its willfulness from the very first day. It had hardly been fed electrical impulses before strange patterns began to appear on the screen with the lightning-like flashes produced by cells that scientists recognize from actual thought processes. Groups of neurons started becoming attuned to one another until they were firing in rhythm. “It happened entirely on its own,” says Markram. “Spontaneously.”

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Study Finds One-Third in D.C. Illiterate
WASHINGTON (AP) - About one-third of the people living in the national’s(sic) capital are functionally illiterate, compared with about one-fifth nationally, according to a report on the District of Columbia.

Adults are considered functionally illiterate if they have trouble doing such things as comprehending bus schedules, reading maps and filling out job applications.

The study by the State Education Agency, a quasi-governmental office created by the U.S. Department of Education to distribute federal funds for literacy services, was ordered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams in 2003 as part of his four-year, $4 million adult literacy initiative.

The growing number of Hispanic and Ethiopian immigrants who aren’t proficient in English contributed to the city’s high functional illiteracy level, which translated to 170,000 people, said Connie Spinner, director of the State Education Agency. The report says the district’s functional illiteracy rate is 36 percent and the nation’s 21 percent.

Adults age 65 and older had the lowest literacy score of any group, the report found.

The District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which contributed to the report, said the city lost up to $107 million in taxes annually between 2000 and 2005 because of a lack of qualified job applicants.

Very sad. In our Nation’s capital no less.
As an aside - Not exactly a plus for the pro-state crowd.

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His energy bill is $0.00 - Yahoo! News
EAST AMWELL, N.J. - Mike Strizki lives in the nation’s first solar-hydrogen house. The technology this civil engineer has been able to string together – solar panels, a hydrogen fuel cell, storage tanks, and a piece of equipment called an electrolyzer – provides electricity to his home year-round, even on the cloudiest of winter days.

Mr. Strizki’s monthly utility bill is zero – he’s off the power grid – and his system creates no carbon-dioxide emissions. Neither does the fuel-cell car parked in his garage, which runs off the hydrogen his system creates.

It sounds promising, even utopian: homemade, storable energy that doesn’t contribute to global warming. But does Strizki’s method – converting electricity generated from renewable sources into hydrogen – make sense for widespread adoption?

I’m watching and waiting for this for my own home.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Griffin maps out NASA’s moon and Mars plans up to 2057 - NASA SpaceFlight.com
‘For the sake of argument and nothing more, let us say that in 2022 we will begin a sustained lunar program of exploration and development consisting of three manned missions (two outpost crew rotations and one sortie) and one unmanned cargo mission per year, utilizing three Orion/Ares I vehicles and four Ares V launches.

‘Present projections assume a cargo capacity of six metric tons on a lander carrying four crew members, and twenty metric tons on a cargo lander, at a marginal cost of about $750 million for a human mission and $525 million for a cargo mission. The marginal cost in Fiscal 2000 dollars for this nominal lunar program will thus be about $3 billion.’

Mars also received a mention, with the timeline of the early 2020’s being noted by Griffin, who went on to project nine Mars missions within a 20 year period, all costing less than the current shuttle program.

‘By the 2020?s we will be well positioned to begin the Mars effort in earnest. The lunar campaign will have stabilized; a human-tended outpost will be well established; we will have extensive long-duration space experience in both zero - and low - gravity conditions, and it will be time to bundle these lessons and move on to Mars - which does not imply that we will bring lunar activities to an end.

‘Quite the contrary; my prediction is that the Moon will prove to be far more interesting, and far more relevant to human affairs, than many today are prepared to believe. But by the early 2020s, it will be time to assign a stable level of support for lunar activities, and set out for Mars.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

By John W. Whitehead

“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” —James Madison

We live in a fundamentally different country since 9/11. Not only do many Americans view their government with suspicion, but how their government views them has drastically changed.

A perfect example of this took place last fall. Prior to the elections that transformed the makeup of Congress, the Bush Administration pushed for the inclusion of two stealth provisions into a mammoth defense budget bill. The additions made it easier for the government to declare martial law and establish a dictatorship.

Since the days of our Founding Fathers, when King George III used his armies to terrorize and tyrannize the colonies, the American people have understandably distrusted the use of a national military force to intervene in civilian affairs, except in instances of extreme emergency and limited duration.

Hence, as a sign of the Founders’ concern that the people not be under the power of a military government, control of the military was vested in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 furthered those safeguards against military law, making it a crime for the government to use the military to carry out arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other activities normally handled by a civilian police force.

However, with the inclusion of a seemingly insignificant rider into the massive defense bill (the martial law section of the 591-page Defense Appropriations Act takes up just a few paragraphs), the Bush Administration has managed to weaken what the New York Times refers to as “two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty.” One is posse comitatus. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which limits a president’s domestic use of the military to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion where a state is violating federal law or depriving the people of their constitutional rights.

Under these new provisions, the president can now use the military as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.” According to the new law, Bush doesn’t even have to notify Congress of his intent to use military force against the American people—he just has to notify them once he has done so. The defense budget provision’s vague language leaves the doors wide open for rampant abuse. As writer Jane Smiley noted, “the introduction of these changes amounts, not to an attack on the Congress and the balance of power, but to a particular and concerted attack on the citizens of the nation. Bush is laying the legal groundwork to repeal even the appearance of democracy.”

The main reason we do not want the military patrolling our streets is that under martial law, the Bill of Rights becomes null and void. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the American people of any vestige of freedom. Thus, if we were subject to martial law, there would be no rules, no protections, no judicial oversight and no elections. And unless these provisions are repealed, the president’s new power will be set in stone for future administrations to use—and abuse.

A fundamental principle of American government is to not trust public officials. But modern Americans, primed by television pablum and ignorant of their history, have a tendency to trust people in office simply because they appear to share a common faith, say the right things or come from a certain region of the country. But lest we forget, power has a tendency to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Furthermore, the way this was handled proves that we cannot trust government officials. By sneaking this provision in as a rider to a larger bill, public debate and media attention were avoided. Had the provision been openly discussed and debated, there would have been opposition and outcry. And it most likely would have been soundly rejected. Instead, it was rushed through the Republican-controlled Congress prior to the elections and enacted into law.

The Founding Fathers would have literally been up in arms over Bush’s actions. They understood the dangers inherent in vesting power in a single person, which is exactly what this legislation purports to do. There’s no limit to what the president can now do: the “any condition” language opens the door for total power, a dictatorship. The people are left with no defense.

Furthermore, this legislation erases the balance between the state and federal government. The state governors understood this, and that’s why many vocally opposed the provisions. But it was to no avail.

Who’s to blame here? Congress has utterly failed to exercise its power to check the growing power of the Executive Branch. The media have also been woefully remiss. Although a handful of bloggers sounded the alarm, the major media outlets failed to report on it. If it weren’t for a recent editorial in the New York Times, most people would still be in the dark. What’s the point of a free press if you can’t rely on the media to report the news?

However, the larger blame rests with the Bush Administration, whose actions over the past six years suggest that the American people are the enemy. Think about some of the changes that have already moved us closer to a police state: the invasive USA Patriot Act; the increased domestic surveillance of citizens’ emails and telephone calls; attempts to deny habeas corpus to prisoners; a national ID card; and now this alarming new law. In addition to opening the doors to a military state, the law also facilitates militarized police round-ups and detaining of protesters in detention camps that are already being built on American soil by the Halliburton corporation. Americans are incredibly naïve if they believe those camps being built are just for illegal aliens.

A pattern is emerging, predicated on one horrific incident in 2001. The current administration is laying the groundwork for a military state, and this is our final wake-up call.


Time to pay attention folks.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

The White House yesterday embraced a new international report faulting humans for global warming, marking the furthest President Bush has gone in placing blame.
But administration officials again rejected the Kyoto-style caps on carbon emissions that have been the preferred solution of European nations.
The report, released in Paris by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the fact that the Earth is now warming “is unequivocal,” and said it is “very likely” that human activity is responsible for many of the changes.
“Human activity is contributing to changes in our Earth’s climate, and that issue is no longer up for debate,” said Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, who took great pains in a press conference yesterday to point out that U.S. research money and science was critical to producing the report.


It’s about time he at least acknowledged it.

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And things get worse in Venezuela.

Why is it that humanity is so sickeningly dominated by jackasses that think they have a right to dominate others?


“Oh, you have a yacht? Perfect, give it to me, buddy,” Chavez said. “You go around Caracas in a tremendous car. You have a house where you live and another one by sea… You have some marvelous art collections — come here, buddy.”

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

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